President Michael D Higgins received a standing ovation from his audience at the EU Parliament in Strasbourg.
Addressing the Parliament, the Irish President urged the Union to connect with its citizens, calling attention to their suffering and reminding the Union that their citizens place their trust in parliament when they vote and rightly have expectations of them.
“We cannot, however, ignore the fact that European citizens are suffering the consequences of actions and opinions of bodies such as rating agencies, which, unlike parliaments, are unaccountable,” he said.
“Many of our citizens in Europe regard the response to the crisis in their lives as disparate, sometimes delayed, not equal to the urgency of the task and showing insufficient solidarity with them in their threatened or actual economic circumstances.
“They feel that in general terms the economic narrative of recent years has been driven by dry technical concerns; for example, by calculations that are abstract and not drawn from real problems, geared primarily by a consideration of the impact of such measures on speculative markets, rather than driven by sufficient compassion and empathy with the predicament of European citizens who are members of a union, and for whom all of the resources of Europe’s capacity, political, social, economic and intellectual might have been drawn on, driven by the binding moral spirit of a union.”
Higgins reminded the Union that its founding treaties were originally founded on values - “Respect for personal dignity; freedom; democracy; equality; the rule of law and respect for human rights,” and continued to voice how citizens need reassurance that the Union will keep faith with these founding treaties.
Firmly addressing the challenge of unemployment, Higgins said, “A first and urgent task must be to get Europe back to sustainable and fulfilling employment and a return to real growth. There is nothing more corrosive to society and more crushing to an individual than endemic unemployment, particularly among the young. Today there are 26 million people across the Union without work, 5.7 million young people, and 115 million in or at risk of poverty and social exclusion. We cannot allow this to continue.”
The President told MEPS that the current, dominant economic policy being used across Europe is “the flaw of our times” and is “insufficient as an approach for our problems and our future” and urged them to press for a new economic model that connects economy, society and policy.
Although President Higgins commended the European Council on the Youth Employment Initiative and the assurance that soon those under 25 will receive a good quality offer of employment, education, apprenticeship or training within four months of being unemployed, he urged for more to be done.
“We need to ensure that women participate in the workplace as equals; that older workers are not left on the sidelines; and that the long-term unemployed are fully equipped to find their way back into today’s workplace. We must, above all, ensure that, for all these European citizens that a loss of employment does not lead to exclusion from participation, particularly in the cultural space of one’s community.”
While addressing the current issues of the EU head on, Higgins’ speech was hopeful that the Union would move forward in a positive light, calling all citizens to “move out of the dark and into the light” to “achieve something worthy of Friedrich Schiller’s poem originally called “Ode to Freedom.”